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Why is My Cell Service So Bad and How Can I Fix It? 10 Tips

Written by Alejandra Jasso
21st May 2024

Top Reasons and Solutions for Bad Phone Signal

Suddenly no cell service at home or in the office? You're not alone.

Poor cell signal is a common issue. According to a PEW survey, 72% of American cell phone owners experience dropped calls and 77% experience slow download speeds. Other reports state cellular signal challenges have increased since early 2021.

But why does cell service go bad? Keep reading to discover the top 10 things that make phones lose service and how to fix them.

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Why is My Phone Service so Bad?

If your cell service goes from decent to spotty in the places that matter, here are the most common reasons why:

1) Building Materials

Building Material Causes Cell Signal to Go Bad

Building materials in your house, workplace, or run-of-the-mill shopping mall are the main culprits behind poor cell signal in America. Cellular signals have a hard time penetrating metal, tinted low-E glass, concrete, and many other materials, which could be why you keep losing your phone signal.

Notably, the impact is more pronounced on 5G compared to 4G. The higher frequencies used by 5G make it more susceptible to disturbance.

So, if you routinely experience fading cell service indoors, it's likely that construction materials are hindering your connection. Here is a list of building materials that block cell phone signals and by how much:

Building Material dB Loss
Foliage -3 to -20
Drywall -2
Fiberglass Insulation -2
Clear Glass -4
Plywood -4 to -6
Solid wood -5 to -12
Plaster -8 to -16
Brick & Stone -8 to -28
Concrete & Cement (6 inches) -10 to -20
Tinted & Low-E Glass -24 to -40
Metal -32 to -50

*dB represents gain or loss of cellular signal strength. Every -3 dB (loss) halves the power.

TIP: While not the most convenient solution, try using your phone near an open window or step outside. A better option is a cell phone signal booster. It can help bypass signal-blocking materials and deliver a stronger signal wherever you need it. We will talk more about them shortly.

2) Cell Tower Distance

Cell Tower Distance Causes Cell Signal to Go Bad

Cellular signals can only travel so far. It’s unclear as to how far exactly. Some sources state up to 25 miles while others say 45 miles. Actual distance is influenced by factors such as:

  • Frequencies - Lower frequencies, like those utilized by 4G and low-band 5G, can cover greater distances. In contrast, higher frequencies, such as those employed by C-Band and mmWave, have a shorter range.
  • Transmission Power - To avoid interference, not all cell towers transmit cellular signals at the same power level. Some are designed to cover more ground than others.
  • Surrounding Terrain - Any obstacles like buildings, trees, hills, etc. can significantly reduce the range of cellular signals.

The further you are from a cell tower, and the more obstacles in the way, the weaker the signal gets. This leads to the "fish tank" voice, constant say-and-repeat moments, and the dreaded one-bar service. People living or traveling in rural areas tend to be the main victims.

TIP: Since relocating closer to your carrier's cell tower is impractical, consider a cellular signal booster. They use a powerful amplifier and antennas to communicate with distant cell towers and deliver a stronger signal where you need it. Alternatively, you can switch to the carrier that offers the best coverage in your area.

3) Congested Mobile Network

Heavy Cellular Traffic Causes Cell Signal to Go Bad

Cell phones communicate with cell sites to send and receive calls, texts, and data. Cell towers and small cells can only handle so many devices at a time.

In heavily populated areas, all devices are fighting for a spot on the nearest cell tower. As more people connect, the signal becomes weaker for everybody, resulting in dropped calls and buffering videos. This can happen while stuck in traffic, at a festival, or at home during peak hours.

Due to limited capacity, cellular providers have network management policies in place. They throttle your connection during times of congestion after exceeding a certain number of GBs specified on your plan. The more expensive your plan, the more priority you’re given over the cellular network. They also prioritize devices with a stronger connection to the tower.

TIP: To mitigate cell signal challenges due to heavy cellular traffic, consider upgrading your wireless plan. You can also use a signal booster to strengthen the signal transmitted between your cell tower and device. This will allow you to keep your connection strong even during times of congestion.

4) Poor Cell Coverage and Dead Zones

Dead Spots Cause Cell Signal to Go Bad

There are many areas across the nation that suffer from poor cell coverage, with some pockets lacking service from specific providers. If you find yourself suddenly losing cell service, you may be in a cellular dead zone.

Dead zones are areas without cellular reception. They occur whenever there is any kind of obstruction between the user and the cell phone tower or a lack of towers in general.

You can use your carrier's coverage map to find out if you’re within coverage range.

AT&T Coverage Map T-Mobile Coverage Map Verizon Coverage Map

However, coverage maps are purely estimates. They are not 100% accurate. DeadCellZones.com is also a great resource. All data is crowdsourced.

TIP: The best way to get service in an area without signal is using WiFi calling or investing in a femtocell. Broadband internet is required for both. Occasionally, though, a faint signal is present but too weak for your phone to register. In those cases, a signal booster can help.

5) Landscape

Landscape Causes Cell Signal to Go Bad

Geographic features often cause cell service to go bad. Trees, for example, are notorious for blocking cell phone signals. Whether you’re hiking or your house is surrounded by large foliage, the leaf canopy can cause a massive drop in cellular reception.

Mountains, hills, and valleys, too. Just like building materials, cellular signals have a hard time penetrating natural barriers. If you live on one side of a mountain, and the only cell tower in your area is on the other, you’re not likely to get good reception.

TIP: Unless you’re able to cut down the trees or change location, a signal booster is your best bet against natural barriers.

6) Weather

Weather Causes Cell Signal to Go Bad

Shockingly, weather can affect cell service. Cell phones transmit and receive electromagnetic waves. Weather phenomena, such as humidity, thunder, lightning, wind, rain, snow, and ice, disrupt the waves, degrading performance.

TIP: Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do about weather, it’s out of anybody’s control. Though, a signal booster can help fine-tune the signal received from your nearest cell tower. Even during bad weather, you'll be able to enjoy reliable talk, text, and data speeds.

7) Phones Age

Using an outdated iPhone or Android could be the reason your phone loses service randomly. As carriers add new frequencies to their network and sunset others, compatibility issues arise. Unable to tap into those newer frequencies, your phone may struggle to maintain a reliable connection.

TIP: Upgrade your device.

8) Blocking Your Antenna

Blocking Phone Antenna Causes Cell Signal to Go Bad

All mobile phones use antennas to transmit cellular signals. Back in the day, phones had extractable exterior antennas. Sure, they were big, heavy, and unwieldy, but their signal was pretty consistent. That’s partly due to their impossible-to-block exterior antennas.

Today’s phones have antennas embedded inside. Anything blocking the antenna, whether it’s your hand, a magnetic plate, or a metal case, can hurt reception. Where exactly the internal antenna is depends on your phone model. A quick Google search can help you identify its location.

A decrease in signal strength due to blocking the antenna may not be noticeable in areas with strong reception. However, it can make a huge difference in near-dead zone environments.

TIP: Find the location of your antenna and avoid blocking it with your hand or a magnetic phone mount plate. Try not to use thick or metal cases that can hinder the amount of signal the antenna receives.

9) Low Battery

Low Battery Causes Cell Signal to Go Bad

Cellular phones need energy to maintain a connection with a cell tower. They may struggle sending and receiving a strong signal when the battery is low.

TIP: Don’t put off charging your phone. You may find yourself with a weak signal when you need it most. If you don’t have access to a power source, try to have a charged power bank on hand at all times just in case. You can also check out our blog on better cell phone battery life tips.

10) Cosmic Events: Solar Flares

Solar Flares Cause Cell Signal to Go Bad

Eruptions on the surface of the sun send plumes of gas into the atmosphere and have been known to disrupt mobile phone communications. These so-called solar flares produce shock waves that travel through space. They can disrupt the signals sent to and from a satellite and produce changes in the Earth’s magnetic field. Obviously, this does not bode well for your cellular signal.

TIP: Unfortunately, there is not much that can be done about cosmic events.

How to Fix Bad Cell Service?

There are a variety of simple fixes you can try to improve your signal. Visit our Easy Ways to Boost Cell Signal blog for a complete list.

Cell phone signal boosters have proven to be the best and most reliable way to improve cell reception at home, in the office, or on the go.

A cellular booster pulls in existing 5G/4G/LTE signals, amplifies them, and rebroadcasts the boosted signal where you need it. This is done using:

  • Cellular Antennas – Outdoor antenna pulls in weak signal and indoor antenna broadcasts boosted signal.
  • An Amplifier – Boosts cell signals up to 32 times.
  • Coaxial Cables – Connects everything together and helps bypass building material.

The results? Dropped phone calls, failed texts, and slow data speeds will be a thing of the past.

They are compatible with all cellular devices and carriers. They do not need WiFi or a broadband connection to work. And you don’t have to worry about paying a monthly fee – it's a one-time purchase. Visit our guide on how signal boosters work for more information.

Below are our top signal repeater models for increasing your phone’s signal and service at home, office, or vehicle.

weboost home multiroom
weBoost Home MultiRoom - 470144

Most popular. Best for midsize homes with strong outside signal or small homes with poor outside signal. Covers up to 5,000 sq ft.

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weboost home complete
weBoost Home Complete - 470145

Most powerful. Best for large homes with a strong outside signal or midsize homes with poor outside signal. Covers up to 7,500 sq ft.

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weboost drive reach
weBoost Drive Reach - 470154

Most powerful and versatile. Best for driving anywhere. Multiple configurations available for any vehicle type.

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weboost drive sleek
weBoost Drive Sleek - 470135

Most affordable. Best for urban and suburban driving. Only supports one device at a time. Fits any vehicle type.

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weBoost Office 100
weBoost for Business Office 200 – 475047

Most popular commercial grade unit. Best for small businesses or large homes. Covers up to 10,000 sq ft.

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FAQs

Why Do I Suddenly Lose Service at Random Times?

Suddenly losing cell service in places where you used to have a reliable connection can be the result of a network outage or new construction blocking your cell tower. Congestion and a connection stuck to a distant cell tower can also cause random service issues. While there's not much a cell phone signal booster can do about outages, it can strengthen your connection to reduce sudden drops.

Why Do I Have Bars but No Service?

There are many reasons why this happens. The main one is congestion. Even though there is a signal available, there is not enough bandwidth to go around, making it seem like there is no service. This also happens during outages. Your phone basically gets confused. It knows that you just had a signal and is desperately searching for one. If your phone struggles to automatically connect to your closest cell tower, some devices will display bars without service. In most cases, the troubleshooting tips mentioned above help reset your connection.

Can a Cell Phone Case Cause Bad Cell Phone Signal?

Yes. Some phone cases can prevent signal from reaching your phone’s internal antenna.

Thin leather, plastic, or rubber cases won’t significantly affect your cell signal. HOWEVER, metal cases, thick battery cases, and the like pose a greater threat to your connection.

Do Magnets Affect Signal?

Electromagnetic fields can cause signal interference, yes.

However, ordinary magnets, such as ones you might find in a bracelet clasp, headphone speaker, or electric motors, will not. There are actually magnets in your cell phones themselves.

Does Poor Cell Signal Drain My Battery?

Definitely. Your phone has to work significantly harder to communicate to and from your cell tower with weaker signal. This results in significantly shorter battery life.

Can an Old Phone Really Cause Bad Service?

Yes. As cellular technology evolves, so do phones.

Older phones don’t have the technology needed to tap into the best and fastest networks available. While your friends are enjoying crisp calls or ultra-fast data, you may be stuck on an unreliable network. As time goes on, older phones also lose software update capabilities, which help with performance.

Does Smoke Make Me Lose Service?

It can. Smoke can reflect and absorb cellular signals, degrading performance. Higher frequencies are affected more than lower frequencies. By how much depends on the density of the smoke.

Wilson Amplifiers Can Help You Fix Bad Cell Phone Reception

Wilson Amplifiers is the leading provider of cellular amplifiers for homes, offices, and vehicles. We've helped hundreds of people get rid of their cellular signal issues across North America. Whatever is causing your signal to go bad, we can help transform your connection!

Call us (1-800-568-2723), email (sales@wilsonamplifiers.com), or chat with us, for a free consultation. Ask us anything, we’re happy to help!

Interested in Learning More? Check Out Our Signal Boosting Info Center

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